Michelle is a partner in our Corporate practice, specialising in Financial Services Regulation. Michelle recently delivered the Quality of Advice Review to government.
I didn't plan to become a lawyer. I left school and went into studying architecture, but it was not what I had hoped—I had romantic ideas about the creative process and had thought too little about the practical (how to make a building stand up) and the day-to-day (drawing a reflected ceiling plan). It was also a very intense course and interfered with my greatest passion at the time—my social life. I then did an Arts degree (which was much closer to Manning Bar) majoring in fine arts, but as much as I loved it, I decided I probably wasn't going to make it as a visual artist or get a job as a curator in a European art gallery, and so I decided law was a better option than ceiling plans. As it turned out, I loved it.
I think one of the greatest misconceptions about law is that it's not creative. I have always been a big reader and I have always enjoyed writing. Words are the tools of the law—they're how we build our legal arguments, persuade and explain. But it is also creative. You have a problem and a body of law and you have to come up with a solution. Of course you use words to do that and you apply logic, but it's the element of creativity that I think makes law really interesting and I think distinguishes a good lawyer from an average one. Using a body of knowledge with problem-solving skills and creativity to come up with something new for a client—an argument, a solution to a problem, whatever it is—that's what motivates me.
It was a combination of luck, chance and ruling things out that meant I ended up specialising in financial services regulation. It started with following the person I wanted to be my supervising partner and then the law reform that happened around us. Career wise, the Financial Services Reform Act in 2002 and the Future of Financial Advice legislation a decade later were the luckiest things that could have happened. And so, when it came to the Quality of Advice Review, I had exactly the right experience.
The Review involved a lot of discussion and debate with stakeholders—financial advisers, banks, super funds, insurers and their representatives, as well as consumer bodies and regulators. From the first we grappled with the detail and the problems and I started thinking about solutions. It was really consultative. I think we had something like 140 consultation meetings. I was able to test my ideas before making final recommendations. I really enjoyed speaking with such a wide range of people with a common interest across the industry. It was an incredible experience.
Returning to my practice, I am coming back to a financial services sector and clients that are under immense scrutiny from regulators. Some superannuation funds, wealth managers and life insurance companies are facing tough questions around how they remain viable. The law is intended to protect consumers from harm, but can also be an impediment to letting our clients help their customers. The recommendations I made in the Quality of Advice Review are designed to help consumers, but they also provide lots of exciting opportunities for our clients as they think about how they can better help their customers. Our financial services clients will need to adapt their businesses if the recommendations I have made are implemented. But these promise to be really positive adaptations for our clients and their customers. They will benefit from a creative and a bold approach. I hope I can be of help because it is too late to finish that architecture degree.